Toshiba 55WL968 TV Review
What will the move to passive 3D technology mean for Toshiba's WL Series?
TV reviewSRP: £1,499.00
What is the Toshiba 32RL958?Toshiba announced the WL968 late in 2012 at IFA in Berlin with the surprise detail that it would not follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, the WL863, by offering an active shutter 3D experience but, instead, passive 3D. It was therefore obvious that Toshiba had elected to use outsourced IPS panels from LG. Whilst Toshiba has not been alone in taking this strategy, we’ve seen a couple of other manufacturers use this route, it is potentially a shame that the WL863’s panel with its very impressive contrast performance and black levels is a thing of the past. On the other hand, Toshiba’s implementation of active shutter technology was not the best so perhaps there is to be some compensation on that front. The outsourcing has also meant that Toshiba has managed to shave a few hundred pounds from the asking price, which is likely the biggest driving factor behind the strategy. The WL968 also adds a few new smart features including WiDi (Wi-Fi Direct), Skype functionality and a new internet based EPG in the shape of Media Guide which should certainly be an improvement over their own. It’s a jungle out there, does the Toshiba 55WL968 have the teeth for the fight?
Design and ConnectionsToshiba has, once again, turned to Danish designer Jacob Jensen to add a touch of flair to the looks of the WL968B and they haven’t let them down with a TV that does convey high-end, at least to the eye. In fact, the WL968 reminds us strongly of the LG LM660T with its predominantly black bezel edged with a gunmetal effect strip around the outside. It’s not metal in reality – it’s 100% plastic – but the effect works and doesn’t really cheapen the design. We’re happy to say that Toshiba hasn’t seen fit to skimp on the connectivity front, many TV makers are shaving a HDMI port from even their flagship TVs, but the WL968 is replete with the ‘full complement’ of 4 – three outward facing from the rear and one, well recessed, at the side. Also outward facing are the antennae connections (both aerial and satellite); a VGA PC input; SPDIF optical audio out; a LAN connection; a USB Port and legacy SCART, Composite and Component connections together with L&R audio jacks. Along with the side-facing HDMI connection is another USB port and a CAM slot plus there’s also some very basic button controls – Power/Source/Up and Down.
The supplied remote control is chunkier than your average but we quite like it despite the extra ballast. Toshiba has provided a finger rest to the back of the remote to aid one-handed operation but it doesn’t really stop the feeling of it being a touch top heavy. The curves and trim are quite pleasing and the large buttons, which are very well positioned, make for efficient operations and the fact it’s too big to get wedged down the back of the average sofa is a plus.
MenusThe GUI Toshiba include on their higher end TVs is hemispheric in appearance and split in to five main categories - TV Programmes, Media Player, Toshiba Places, Function and Setup. Under the TV Programmes menu, as well as the standard EPG, users can set timers and/or recordings to a USB hard drive There’s also quite a useful search facility, too, that works on a genre basis and identifies programmes that match from the EPG. Whilst Toshiba’s native EPG isn’t the prettiest, those that have connected their WL968 to their home network are able to access the internet based MediaGuide which is a far more attractive proposition. The guide takes a few seconds to load but the interface is worth the wait and is able to give far more detail than the standard RPG. It’s also possible to arrange programming by genre with options such as Children, Films, Sports and News. To enable MediaGuide, users must enter the Preferences Menu and access the TV Guide Selection item.
The Function doesn’t really need to exist being as it only contains a Sleep and On Timer and so could have been housed elsewhere. Next we come to the Media Player that allows the playback of files either via your network or connected USB storage. On to the Setup Menu which affords access to the Picture and Sound controls, along with the System Setup Menu and Preferences where you save your preferred settings. The Preference item has options for 3D, including a test pattern that didn't seem to serve much purpose.
The Picture menu houses some interesting options and a notable oversight when compared to the WL863. The auto calibration option via the Hollywood Pro Picture Mode is still there but we’re not sure where a UK user is supposed to lay their hands on the TPA-1 tool necessary to use it. The inclusion of auto-calibration in the menus means it’s now only possible to directly adjust the gamma response by that method, meaning it’s greyed out in the Expert Picture Settings in all the other modes, which is potentially frustrating and we’d like a reinstatement of the Static Gamma Control of last year. More standard options include Backlight, Contrast, Sharpness and Brightness sliders and there are various picture modes with the Hollywood choices affording the most accurate out of box results.
The two further sub picture menus are the Advanced and Expert Picture Settings areas. Under 'Advanced' we have Toshiba's notoriously buggy CMS, labelled ColourMaster; Colour Temperature; Auto Brightness Sensor Settings; Active Backlight Control; Black/White Level; Noise Reduction, Resolution+ and ClearScan. The Expert Picture Settings Menu houses a catch-all test pattern and a RGB Filter allowing for a quick colour and tint calibration using just a test disc and blue filter. We can also choose between BT.601 and BT.709 colour decoding or choose to have the TV auto detect. From here we can also calibrate the greyscale using the 2 or 10 point White Balance controls as well as use the calibration tool in conjunction with the Colour and Gamma Calibration items. We'll deal with this, in detail, later on.
FeaturesOfficially the WL968B went on sale in the last month of 2012 but the feature-set is not identical to that of most of the rest of last year’s range, adding Skype, WiFi Direct (WiDi), a new browser and the aforementioned MediaGuide. Most of what we said in our in-depth look at the Toshiba Smart TV system holds true, however, with Toshiba Places – their online portal - retaining the same look and structure. We got to try out the Skype app with Toshiba’s new Freetalk Conference videocam/mic add-on and it worked very well. Audio was quite clear, in fact a bit too loud at default settings, and the video quality was certainly passable although you will need make sure the room is well lit else the other caller will be hard pressed to pick you out on the other end. The browser and MediaGuide would undoubtedly have been more fun to use had we been able to use the Android apps to accompany them but since we were unable to download the MediaGuide app because of a region restriction and the WL968 wouldn’t connect to our smartphone we weren’t given the opportunity to find out. The new Toshiba AV Remote was said to be incompatible with our phone, also, which was made more frustrating as it’s specifically listed as so on the Google Play page so we were unable to try that out. Toshiba’s smart offering is quite modest against the likes of LG and Samsung but showing signs of improvement.
Test ResultsThe Hollywood modes all produce much the same results, just with differing maximum light outputs so it was somewhat arbitrary that we chose the Hollywood Day preset to calibrate. Simply by setting Backlight, Contrast and Brightness for optimal viewing, we were able to gain a major improvement over the Standard Picture Mode. There’s still an excess of blue in the greysacle but it’s not as prevalent and Delta E’s are now hovering around the 5 mark. Colour performance (at 100%) saturation was also enhanced, largely thanks to the reigning in of the luminance. Our concerns prior to the full calibration relate to the gamma tracking and use of the ColourMaster CMS; since Toshiba has done away with the Static Gamma control we’d have to rely on the 10 point White Balance control to flatten it to the yellow line that represents our target in the Gamma Point Graph and ColourMaster is a very inconsistent tool for calibrators, often introducing picture ruining artefacts.
Whilst the 10 point white balance controls were enough to bring the mixture of red, green and blue into relative harmony, they didn’t prove powerful enough near black to deliver perfect tonal neutrality. Gamma response at lower stimulus levels was erring on the too dark side and thus we wouldn’t quite be seeing all the details of the picture in the darker elements of images. It’s still an excellent result however but not as good as we could have obtained had the missing option been there.
We did manage to make adjustments to ColourMaster that resulted in absolutely reference graphs and charts but real world viewing demonstrated that the dreaded demons of banding and blocking, incurred by its use, were back. In the end we settled for small over-saturations in green, red and yellow and as Delta Errors were, overall, below 3 across the board it’s a good result. Of course the chart above only shows the story at full saturation at three quarter of potential full brightness and the multi-saturation graph below demonstrates the decoding at lower levels isn’t as faithful, particularly in red and green. Without comparing it to a display with better colour tracking, one is unlikely to spot anything is amiss but, since we can, it was fairly easy to see that certain grasses and foliage looked quite different. Without the tools – and means to display the results – at lower saturation points we might once have labelled the performance as close to reference but it slips something behind that mark with the advent of Calman 5.Video Processing
There’s no film mode present in the Toshiba WL968 and it shows by virtue of the fact it was unable to pick out progressively shot material when sent in an interlaced signal. In this day and age, there will not be many of our readers that undertake such an archaic procedure – at the least we’d expect an ‘upscaling’ DVD player – but for those that prefer the old ways, it’s something to consider if they have a large DVD collection. Those hooking up a Blu-ray player to view a 1080p24 won’t be disappointed as the WL968 handles that medium pretty well without any additional judder or frame skipping although it’s not able to reproduce full chromatic detail, evidenced by the Spears and Munsil Chroma Multiburst pattern. Scaling of standard definition signals was good and even on a TV of this size, the better SD channels were quite pleasing. Video deinterlacing was not quite so impressive and on close examination we could spot a little break up of fine detail under movement, which ironically was all the worse when we turned on the motion interpolating ClearScan function, which was not to our liking at all.
Contrast and Black Level
The obvious place where the insertion of the IPS panel in to WL series was going to impact its performance was in its ability to lend a convincing dynamic range to images and so it proved, at least without any dimming manipulation brought to the party. Without Active Backlight Control being used, a full screen black pattern returned a measurement of 0.11 cd/m2; with it on, a dramatic improvement to 0.011 cd/m2 was made. One needs to balance that measurement with the loss of detail in some very dark scenes and the fact it throws the gamma response out, to quite some degree, but we felt it best to have Active Backlight set to Low both on picture quality and screen uniformity grounds. In actual fact, once brighter elements were introduced to that picture, courtesy of the ANSI Checkerboard test, average black levels diminished to 0.1 cd/m2, in any case, so real world improvement isn’t all that great. An ANSI contrast figure of 1051:1 is pretty typical by IPS standards and not going to satisfy black level junkies although the deployment of an effective filter means the WL968 holds its own in a ‘typical’ living room environment.
It’s an absolute necessity to switch in to Game mode for anyone with anything like reactions above the level of comatose; without using it, expect lag in the 150 millisecond range. The improvement to around 55ms in Game mode is certainly tangible but it is subject to a lot of crushing in the shadows which is obviously a major drawback in competitive shooters. There’s also some ghosting in high contrast scenes to contend with so the WL968 is probably not one for a dedicated gamer.
The following measurements were taken with a full screen 50% white pattern:
Out-of-the-Box – Standard Mode: 88W
Calibrated – Hollywood Day Mode: 83W
3D Mode: 145W
Toshiba 32RL958 Picture QualityThere’s a conundrum to be unravelled when setting up the Toshiba WL968 and that’s whether to sacrifice a reasonably flat tonal response and reasonable detail in the dark areas of the picture for better contrast levels and screen uniformity. Whichever way you look at it, there’s a compromise to be made and in the end we came down in favour of making the black levels better by engaging the Active Backlight Control on its Low setting. With that done, the apparent dynamic range was far more commanding albeit at the expense of shadow detail but at least there was little in the way of haloing around objects, something we see quite a lot with other dimming systems.
Colour performance was reasonably convincing but put next to a display with better tracking through the saturation points, the tones of grasses, trees and skin tones didn’t appear quite right but that’s a relative thing and not something likely to bother most once it’s in situ. Motion handling was OK but on a screen of this size it’s not difficult to spot some ghosting and blur on rapidly moving objects. Switching on the motion processing, labelled ClearScan, does clean some of that up but it is extremely aggressive - even in its lowest setting - and the video-cam like soap opera effect was very noticeable and not at all to our tastes. Another issue we noted was with lip-sync through HDMI connected sources and although there is the ability to make an offset in the Sound Menu we could never get it quite right and once you notice, it's difficult to 'unnotice'. We clocked latency of the HDMI input as around 155 milliseconds in Hollywood Modes, which seems about right for the audio delay, so those with HDMI amps where a specific delay can be set may want to take note.
The Toshiba WL968 certainly doesn’t deliver the same level of performance as its predecessor in many areas, although general colour performance is improved, and that’s something of a pity but we understand that commercial decisions have to be made and that sometimes these are at the expense of quality. We’re not saying the WL968 is a disappointing TV but when you consider, at current pricing, it’s up against the likes of the Panasonic 55ST50 and Sony 55HX853, it’s an uphill battle.
Picture Quality 3DThe news here isn’t so good and there’s clearly some processing issues that Toshiba needs to work on, foremost with the motion processing. With Blu-ray disc in particular the WL968’s 3D delivery suffered with extremely jerky movement and very noticeable ghosting effects. Even on the static 3D pattern built in to the user menus, it was easy to spot the double-imaging and to be frank it makes watching 3D on the WL968 very uncomfortable. The Toshiba fared slightly better with side by side material at 50Hz, i.e UK broadcast content but we could still spot a fair amount of crosstalk as well as some unnatural looking movement. It’s a shame as static images look good with plenty of brightness and reasonably convincing colours. It’s back to the drawing board for Toshiba, here, unfortunately.
- Nice design
- Decent colour reproduction
- MediaGuide is attractive
- Excellent greyscale following calibration
- Toshiba Places interface is quite striking
- Poor 3D performance
- Average black and contrast levels
- Not good for gamers
- Hobbled calibration controls
- Lip Sync problems via HDMI connected sources
- Issues with apps and WiDi
Toshiba 55WL968 TV Review
The Toshiba WL968 looks every one of its 55 inches like a top-tier TV. The now familiar ultra-skinny bezel is complemented by an attractive metal effect strip that runs around its perimeters and even if the supplied remote control errs to the portly side, it performs its job ably and we actually quite like its weightiness. Toshiba’s general menu structures are unchanged since last we had cause to explore them but the omittance of the Static Gamma control proved a calibration challenge later on.
Feature wise, Toshiba has added Skype, WiFi Direct and a new browser to the smart porftfolio whilst bolstering the media player to make it a very capable one. Toshiba’s new Freetalk Conference videocam/mic works well in good light conditions but the browser is a chore to use without the smartphone/tablet app which we couldn’t get to work with our Android device. We’d had no such issues with other Toshiba kit recently so we’re puzzled as to why we couldn’t get it to work with the WL968. We experienced similar frustration with the WiDi feature.
Even in the absence of the gamma control we were able to extract excellent results from the WL968, owing to the first-rate 10 point white balance controls and as colour reproduction was very decent by default, we didn’t have to play Russian Roulette with the ColourMaster engine. Colour tracking at lower saturation points was quite inaccurate, for green and red in particular, and when compared to a more accurate display it was fairly easy to spot. Since most won’t have that luxury at home, it’s not a huge issue but we’ve seen TVs costing far less than the WL968 do better in this area. The same could be said for video gaming where crushed blacks, image ghosting and a relatively lethargic input latency of around 55ms doesn’t really lend itself to that pursuit.
The biggest loss from the outgoing WL series comes through the diminishment of black and contrast levels which has gone from the stellar to the mediocre in one fell swoop. Admittedly things can be improved by use of the dimming control but that’s at the expense of some of the shadow detail and tonal evenness in the pictures. Still, the creditable colour accuracy and effectiveness of the filter means it will fare well in the average living room but it’s not one for viewing in ‘critical’ conditions. The biggest let down with the WL968B is in its 3D performance, which has a lot of ghosting effects with movement. The algorithm is clearly not working and this needs to be addressed post haste by Toshiba, it is priced with a premium for the feature.
There was a time when 55-inch TVs were something of a rarity but the sector is fast filling up and Toshiba’s 55WL968B has a massive job on its hands to compete with the outgoing Panasonic ST50 and Sony HX853 that are currently priced around the same mark, not to mention all those new models announced at International CES 2013.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,499.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level5
3D Picture Quality5
Ease Of Use6
Value for Money6
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